PARIS.- The Centre Pompidou
is to pay tribute to Lucian Freud, one of the greatest of contemporary painters. Now 88 years old, he is one of the worlds most important living artists. He has not shown in France since the Centres last major retrospective of his work nearly a quarter of a century ago, in 1987, though his fame has since then only grown and his place in the history of art become ever more assured.
The exhibition will present an outstanding selection of Freuds work, consisting of some fifty large-format paintings, mostly from private collections, together with a number of prints and drawings, as well as photographs of the artists London studio.
The exhibition is organised around the theme of the studio, this enclosed space so essential to Freuds paintings and to his practice as a painter. Occupying more than 900 square metres, it will bring together most of the painters Large Interiors, his variations on the Old Masters, his self-portraits, and more recent very large portraits of Leigh Bowery and Big Sue.
The distinctiveness of Lucian Freuds work resides to a great extent in his minute, almost obsessional treatment of the portraits and nudes, based on an absolute commitment to the craft of painting: I want paint to work as flesh. The model is observed within the enclosed world of the studio the painters laboratory. Freud paints only what takes its place in this space, setting his models within a precise scenography that draws on the furniture and other studio furnishings, which become recurrent and recognizable elements of his compositions: the pot plant, the sagging sofa, the old armchair, the iron bedstead, the hand-basin and the paint-spattered walls.
The few landscapes London houses and factories, back yards, empty plots, gardens, rubbish tips are viewed from above, generally painted from the studio windows or the door. Nature in Freud is an urban nature, meagre and cramped.
The addresses of his successive studios feature may feature in the titles (W11, W9
), offering a rough chronology, from the first thirty years in Paddington, to the loft in Holland Park and then the house in Notting Hill. The theme of the studio itself offers a metaphor for painting in the close, closed encounter between painter and model (from Rembrandt to Courbet and Picasso to Freud himself), the space of the painting (the representation of the real, the process of creation) and the figure of the artist (in the self-portraits and the re-readings of the masters).
The exhibition is organised in four sections:
The exhibition opens in this first room with an extraordinarily impressive group of studio interiors and urban landscapes. Among the latter, Wasteground with Houses, Paddington, 1970-1972 and Factory in North London, 1972, show the obverse of the London streetscape, with its worn, undecorated facades. The studio, shown with its furniture, its pot plants, the surfaces of walls and floor, serves as a framework for an intense confrontation with the model. The power of Freuds painting derives from this closely monitored tension between distance and intimacy.
The force and complexity of Freuds self-portraits spring from this same tension between interiority and representation, between reflective self-communion and ironic distancing. A regular exercise, his self-portraiture offers variations on the mirror image and the frontal head-and-shoulders portrait, while more oblique, passing glimpses of the artist are afforded by the reflections incidentally captured in the corner of other compositions. Directness itself becomes oblique in more parodical representations of the painter naked but for his boots with palette and brush in hand, or as the old master pursued by an amorous, unclothed model
Freud says, to portray yourself, you have to try and paint as if you were someone else. In the self-portrait, likeness is something different. I have to paint what I feel, without falling into expressionism.
A rebelliously conservative student, his instincts opposed to contemporary trends, Freud had long grounded his painting in an arduous wrestling with the object, in the intense observation of a familiar model a friend or relative within the privacy and isolation of the studio. It was in the 1980s that he came to both subsume and transcend the autobiographical aspect of his work in large-scale compositions that equally attended to the constitutive historicity of painting.
In this section, the works exhibited drawings, prints and paintings all offer re readings of works by other painters: Cézannes LAprès-midi à Naples, a study of a tree-trunk by Constable, a Picasso drawing, Chardins La Maîtresse décole. From loose copies to the radical reinterpretation of Constables Elm as a girl standing, taking in deliberately clumsy studio-bound re-stagings on the way, these variations serve as the vehicle of a subtle reflection on painting today, as art, and as history or tradition.
4. As Flesh
Following in the line of the Large Interiors and the paintings after the masters, Freuds work since the 1990s includes a number of very ambitious, powerful yet enigmatic paintings of key models, among them drag performer Divine and the performance artist Leigh Bowery and his friend the benefits supervisor Big Sue. These might be said to be Lucian Freuds own history painting.
The exhibition closes with screenings of two films: Tim Mearas Small Gestures in Bare Rooms (2010, 10', colour, 16mm), a slow and silent exploration of the Holland Park studio, and a five-minute film of the artist in his studio by Freuds assistant David Dawson. The last room has a group of still photographs of Freud in his studio, also by Dawson.